'He'd be so proud,' Terry Fox's brother says of lasting impact on cancer research


Everyone has a dream, but not everyone has the courage to make them a reality.

But Terry Fox wasn’t your average person. Years after his death, his message of hope, strength and perseverance continues to inspire millions of people around the world.

“People love Terry,” older brother Fred Fox told Yahoo Canada.

Every September, schools across the country hold the annual Terry Fox Run to encourage donations for cancer research. Around the world, millions of people participate. This year, the run takes place on Sept. 16.

It all started in 1977 when an 18-year-old Terry Fox was diagnosed with bone cancer and had to have most of his right leg amputated. While seeing people young and old endure the hardships of cancer treatment, a young man from the Prairies was inspired.

“Even though he was sick from chemo, it wasn’t as much of a concern to Terry as it was to watch the other people going through the same thing,” Fred Fox said.

“It really bothered him and he discovered not a lot of money was being raised publicly or through government for cancer research and he wanted to do something about it.”

Inspired by those suffering around him, Terry Fox decided to do what no other man had done before.

On April 12, 1980, he dipped his artificial leg in the ocean in St. John’s and began his run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. His goal was $1 from every Canadian, and there was around 24 million at the time.

“I just wish people would realize that anything’s possible if you try; dreams are made possible if you try,” Terry Fox said.

Terry Fox ran close to 42 kilometres a day and never took a day off. He called his campaign the Marathon of Hope, which was fitting since he was running a marathon everyday.

“I don’t know how Terry could do that everyday,” Fred Fox said of his brother’s relentless effort. “It doesn’t compute.”

He wanted to set an example, his brother explained, but he also wanted to do it for the right reasons.

“Terry Fox wasn’t running across Canada to become rich or famous,” Fred Fox acknowledged. “Terry was running to make a difference and help other people.”

On Sept. 1, 1980, his cross-country tour came to a sudden end near Thunder Bay, Ont., when doctors told him the cancer that was in his bones had invaded his lungs. However, he did see his fundraising dream realized.

The Marathon of Hope raised $24.17 million, including $1 million each from the governments of Ontario and British Columbia. 

Terry Fox realized his dream before he died on June 28, 1981, following a 10-month battle with cancer.

“He knew that he had raised a dollar for every Canadian,” Fred Fox revealed.

Statues were erected in his honour. Schools and streets adopted his name in tribute. Even a mountain in British Columbia would soon be called Mount Terry Fox.

But his brother said it was never about the accolades. He knew about the suffering that people were going through because of the disease that took his life, and he didn’t want his dream to die when he did.

“‘Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue,'” Fred Fox recalled his brother saying.

During the September following his death, another $3.5 million was raised during the first Terry Fox Run when more than 300,000 people walked, ran or cycled in his memory.

As the sibling of a global icon, the elder Fox tirelessly travels all over Canada and the globe spreading his brother’s message of hope.

“Honesty, integrity, determination,” he said of his brother. “Doing his run for all the right reasons.”

In 2018, there are events in 33 countries worldwide, from the U.S. and Cuba to Brazil and the United Arab Emirates.

“In Cuba, Terry Fox is their hero,” Fred Fox revealed.

Since his cross-country campaign, Terry Fox has inspired people to donate more than $750 million in his name. And while there’s still work to be done in the fight against cancer, his message of hope for a cure lives on.

“He’d be so proud,” his older brother said. “Terry’s story is alive and well.”

Terry Fox is seen here running on a highway in northern Ontario, where he would eventually have to end his Marathon of Hope after learning that cancer has spread to his lungs. Photo from Getty Images.